Austin-Travis County officials establish nonprofit to raise funds to support complete census count

Residents can expect mailers to arrive by mid-March requesting they participate in the 2020 census. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)
Residents can expect mailers to arrive by mid-March requesting they participate in the 2020 census. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

Residents can expect mailers to arrive by mid-March requesting they participate in the 2020 census. (Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

With less than three months before the decennial census April 1, local officials are working to raise additional funds to ensure as complete a count as possible.

Last spring, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt created an Austin-Travis County complete count committee to help encourage community participation. Then in August, John Lawler started in the inaugural role of census program manager, a position funded by both the city and the county.

Both the city of Austin and Travis County have committed $200,000 to census efforts. Additional funding amounts to $159,000, which leaves a gap of $300,000 to what county officials said was an optimal budget.

Following the example of complete count committees in Houston and Hays County, Adler, Eckhardt and the League of Women Voters have collaborated on the creation of a nonprofit—the Austin-Travis County Collaborative—which will allow for additional fundraising.

“This is a nonpartisan effort,” Eckhardt said. “These funds are not political. This is a nonprofit. And these funds can only be used to facilitate the most accurate count possible.”

The nonprofit will continue after this census effort to serve future counts.

Local governments have a financial incentive to count each resident: The results of this census will determine how approximately $675 billion in federal money will be allocated each year, according to a brief prepared by county staff.

During the 2010 census, an estimated 73% of area residents were counted, Wheeler said.

For each person not counted in the census, the Austin-Travis County area stands to lose about $1,500 in annual funding, interim Intergovernmental Relations Officer Julie Wheeler told commissioners at a Jan. 21 meeting.

The committee is focused on reaching hard-to-count populations, which include people experiencing homelessness, people who are living in the country illegally and people without internet access.

In addition to partnering with community organizations with inroads to these communities, Lawler and committee members have developed a map that scores census tracts in Austin-Travis County according to how hard they will be to count accurately as well as the reasons, such as a large number of residents living in apartments.

“If you are like us, [a] limited local effort with limited public dollars, time, bandwidth within our organizations are already covering the weight of the world you can prioritize where you’re going to hit,” Lawler said. “This will be the methodology that will be leading this effort.”

Other efforts include working with parent support specialists at area school districts to build on existing relationships with families that may have members who are in the country illegally and related fears about participating in the census.

In addition to determining how federal dollars are allocated, census data will determine the number of congressional districts in Texas as well as how those district boundaries are drawn by state and federal legislators.

Between March 12 and April 1, every home should receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Volunteers will visit residences that have not responded between May and July.

Emma Freer


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